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Henry Knox

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Henry Knox
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Henry Knox

Henry Knox (July 25, 1750October 21, 1806) was an American bookseller from Boston who became the chief Artillery officer of the Continental Army and later the nation's first United States Secretary of War. He was born to Scots-Irish immigrants William and Mary Campbell Knox at Boston on July 25, 1750. His father was a ship's captain, engaged in the West Indies trade until his death in 1762. Henry left school at the age of 12 and became a bookstore clerk to support his mother. He later opened his own bookshop, the London Book Store, in Boston. Largely self-educated as an avid reader, he began to concentrate on military subjects, particularly Artillery.

Henry married Lucy Flucker (1756-1824) on June 16, 1774. In spite of separations due to his military service, they remained a devoted couple for the rest of his life, and carried on an extensive correspondence. Over the years, they had thirteen children. Since the couple fled Boston in 1775, she remained essentially homeless throughout the Revolutionary War.

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Military Career

Knox supported the American rebels, supported the Sons of Liberty, and was present at the Boston Massacre. He volunteered as a member of the Boston Grenadier Corps in 1772 and served under General Ward at the Battle of Bunker Hill in 1775. Being a member of the Army of Observation, Henry met and impressed General Washington when he took command. The two became lifelong friends.

As the Siege of Boston continued, he suggested that the cannon then at Fort Ticonderoga could have a decisive impact. Washington commissioned him as Colonel of Artillery, and gave him charge of the expedition to retrieve them. His force brought them by Ox-drawn sled through the Green Mountains and across the frozen Connecticut River. When they returned and placed the cannons overlooking the harbor, the British were forced to withdraw to Halifax on March 17, 1776. After the siege was lifted, Henry undertook the construction and improvement of defenses in Connecticut and Rhode Island to prepare for the British return. He rejoined the main army later during their withdrawal from New York and across New Jersey.

On December 25, 1776 Colonel Knox was in charge of the Delaware River crossing. Though hampered by ice and cold, with Glover's Marbleheaders manning the boats he got the attack force of men, horses, and artillery across the river without loss. Following the Battle of Trenton, he got the same force along with hundreds of prisoners, captured supplies, and all the boats back across river by the afternoon of December 26. This accomplishment got him promoted to Brigadier General.

Knox stayed with the Main Army throughout most of the active war, and saw further action at Princeton, Brandywine, Germantown, Monmouth, and Yorktown. In 1777, while the Army was in winter quarters at Morristown, New Jersey, he returned to Massachusetts to improve the Army's artillery capability. He raised an additional battalion and established the Springfield Armory before his return in the spring. The arsenal remained a valuable source of weapons and ammunition for the rest of the war. In early 1780 he was a member of the court-martial of Major Andre. Knox made several other trips to the Northern states as Washington's representative to increase the flow of men and supplies to the army.

After Yorktown, Knox was promoted to Major General. In 1782 he was given command of the post at West Point. In 1783 he was one of the founders of the Society of the Cincinnati, and led the American forces into New York City as the British withdrew. He stood next to Washington during his farewell on December 4 at Fraunces Tavern. After Washington retired, he was the senior officer of the Continental Army from December 1783 until he left it in June, 1784.

Later Government Service

The Continental Congress made him secretary of war under the Articles of Confederation on March 8, 1785. He held that position without interruption until September 12, 1789 when he assumed the same duties as the United States Secretary of War in Washington's first cabinet.

As secretary, Knox urged and presided over the creation of a regular Navy, was responsible for Indian policy and a plan for a national militia, and created a series of coastal fortifications. He oversaw the inclusion of the Springfield Armory as one of two national facilities. In 1791, Congress, acting on a detailed proposal from Knox, created the short-lived Legion of the United States.

On December 31, 1794 Knox left the government to devote himself to caring for his growing family. He was succeeded as Secretary of War by Timothy Pickering.

Biographic Notes

Knox settled his family at Monpelier, an estate near Thomaston, Maine. He spent the rest of his life engaged in cattle farming, ship building and brick making. Although he had left national service, he represented his new community in the Massachusetts General Assembly. In 1806 he swallowed a chicken bone which punctured his intestine. He died of infection (peritonitis) 3 days later on October 21, 1806 and is buried in Thomaston.

We can form an opinion of Knox's character from many incidents in his career. As one example, when he and Lucy were forced to leave Boston in 1775, his home was used to house British officers who looted his bookstore. In spite of personal financial hardships, he managed to make the last payment of 1,000 pounds to Longman Printers in London to cover the price of a shipment of books that he never received.

Two separate American forts, Fort Knox (Kentucky), and Fort Knox (Maine) were named after him. A Knox County has been named from him in Illinois, Indiana, Kentucky, Maine, Missouri, Nebraska, Ohio, Tennessee, and Texas. Knoxville, Tennessee is also named for him.

References

  • North Callahan; Henry Knox: General Washington's General; A. S. Barnes and Co., New York, 1958.
  • A good book for young readers describes moving Ticonderoga's guns: ISBN 0152164359

External link


Preceded by:
United States Secretary of War
1789–1794
Succeeded by:
Timothy Pickering

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